Since the mask mandates have been in place I’ve put together quite a collection of face coverings.

It helps of course that I have a friend who’s a brilliant seamstress, a mother with too much time on her hands and friends who are constantly gifting me scarves and kerchiefs. For many, masks have become a sartorial choice (maybe the only variable in a uniform of leggings and tees for some). Even during these pandemic days, our outfits can be a form of self-expression.

Which is ironic, because these face coverings cancel out much our ability to be expressive.

As face coverings became de rigeur I noticed that Pinkerton, ever the reader of body language and facial expressions became confused when I would call to him at the park. Was I annoyed? Excited? Serious? Playful? He would trot up to me cautiously, looking into my eyes, trying to read a face that was mostly covered from view. I imagine that other dogs are probably confused as well.

Then I started thinking about infants and young children, who learn about human behavior and interaction largely through tone of voice and expression. What effect do masks have on their mental/psychological development? Or do they grow up assuming that everyone outside their home walks around with their face covered?

I’m very sensitive to facial expressions, body postures, unconscious movement. I like to read people non-verbally, as picking up on their physical energy gives me an indication of how to best approach them. Take away the possibility of seeing a facial expression, and it throws me off balance. It’s literally harder to get a read on people.

My friend Lilly and I, on our weekly walks, jokingly play a game called “hilarious or furious” in which we try to guess the other’s expression just by looking at their eyes. We know each other well enough that we guess correctly, but what if we weren’t so close?

I wonder how mask life will continue to impact us. Sometime I feel that the physical barrier constructs a psychological barrier, a visceral reminder of our separation for others. We each are apart, behind our own little curtains. And for me it exacerbates the sense of unsettledness that feeds into my anxiety.

It’s hard to feel anxious. It’s hard to feel anxious during a global pandemic. It’s hard to feel anxious during a global pandemic when you can’t get a read on anyone walking down the street.

So in many ways I’ve become more verbal, and also aware of the rest of my body language. I’ve also made a conscious effort to smile behind my mask, hoping that the crinkle in my eyes will translate. I’ve been waving a lot more. It’s just that I can’t wait to actually see people again.

7 thoughts on “Expressions

  1. Wayne Zelenak says:

    Sarah, The wearing of facemasks in this pandemic has been a controversial topic raising questions based on perception, fear, anger, and prudence. What amazes me is the cavalier portrayal of large groups of people attending rallies, walking the boardwalk, and co-mingling in defiance of the use of face masks in crowded areas, despite the warnings of the CDC.

    Your blog touches on the de rigueur perception that is widely taking place in society. In our home, we have a vast selection of face masks of a variety of colors, designs, comfort designs, and sizes. My wife and daughter are continually purchasing new avant-garde concepts that attach to a hat, adjustable straps that bypass the ears for comfort, and are washable for reuse. There are some masks that have a plastic window attached to view your mouth. The neck scarf is really comfortable. My grandchildren are also color-coordinated.

    Being acutely aware of body language in people, it has always been my passion to closely observe people in casual conversation reading their eyes, hands, and sitting position. I have always been attracted to the expressions of the awesome talents of those in the performing arts, fine arts, cinema, and music. I am always drawn to those who possess the profound ability to see more clearly, feel more deeply, and comprehend the ambient beauty in the world and to share it with others.


  2. Bon après-midi Maestra,

    I’m writing this post in my car in between two home visits. You have a nice collection of masks, Sarah. I had to check what was a seamstress. Your friend might have a Japanese brand called Juki. When my wife arrived in Québec she, her sister and her mom were seamstresses. They were using that brand (one overlock and one sewing machine). We still have them and we put them in our garage. My wife is making some masks that she gives to the family, friends and colleagues.

    I didn’t know you were using the term ‘de rigueur’ in English. Good to know.

    Your friend Lilly reminded me of a former patient who beared the first name of Lille. She was born in that city (Lille) in France. Her nickname was Lilly and preferred to be called that way.

    When I’m seeing new or regular patients at home most of their dogs bark at me. I’m a dogs and cats lover, though. I think it is the mask (even some dogs who already know me bark at me).

    This virus will effectively change a lot of things. Future studies will be made in different fields (psychology, medecine,…).

    Non verbal is telling us about individuals but I don’t rely on this at 100 %. I try to get a global picture but with a mask it is obviously not an easy task.

    n.b.: at 20:48 EST tonight -> red new moon.


  3. Sorry about the message above saying: “Video Unavailable. This video may no longer exist, or you don’t have permission to view it. Learn More”. It is actually “Interesting facts about the human eye”.
    I thought that those three videos were a complement of infos about the Gaze.


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